Turkey brings back first batch of troops from Kabul
The first group of Turkish troops has landed in Ankara after the government’s decision to end the 20-year-long military presence in Afghanistan while it said it was willing to operate Kabul Airport through civilian teams should Taliban agree on the terms.
“We are planning to complete the evacuations from Afghanistan at the earliest,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in a written statement early Aug. 26. Turkey has 500 to 600 soldiers based at Kabul airport and the withdrawal is planned to complete within 24 or 36 hours.
Turkey was present in Afghanistan with non-combat troops under the NATO missions since late 2001. The Turkish troops were tasked to protect and operate the International Hamid Karzai Airport since 2015. Talks with the Taliban for the continued mission of the Turkish troops have failed as the group said it will not accept the presence of any foreign soldiers on Afghan lands.
Akar thanked Pakistan and Tajikistan for facilitating the evacuations from Kabul. Turkish troops and the citizens who wish to leave Afghanistan are transferred to Islamabad from Kabul through A 400M military transport aircraft and then to Turkey by special planes dispatched by Turkish Airlines.
Accordingly, a Turkish Airlines plane carrying 345 people, including the first batch of the Turkish soldiers, landed at Esenboğa Airport on Aug. 26. The plane continued to Istanbul after dropping the soldiers off.
Akar said Turkish soldiers successfully fulfilled the task given to them in the war-torn country. Despite the extraordinary conditions at the airport, where thousands of people are desperately trying to get a flight out since the Taliban takeover, the Turkish Armed Forces are making every effort to ensure that their plan is implemented without any major disruptions, he added.
“We would like to thank our friends, Pakistan and Tajikistan, and our allies with whom we worked together in the region, for their support,” Akar said.
The announcement of the withdrawal was made late Aug. 25 by the Defense Ministry, which said, “the Turkish Armed Forces is returning to our homeland with the pride of successfully fulfilling the task entrusted to them.”
‘Turkish experts can run airport’
Meanwhile, İbrahim Kalın, the chief foreign policy adviser and spokesman of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the Taliban wanted technical support from Turkey in running the airport and that talks would likely reach positive results.
“After our soldiers withdraw, we could continue to operate the airport there,” Kalın told the private broadcaster NTV late Aug 25. Kalın said he doubted the Taliban had the capacity to maintain security at the airport, adding that negotiations on Turkish civilian experts providing technical support at the airport were ongoing.
He also noted that the Taliban will have to provide the security of the airport. Speaking on relations with the Taliban, Kalın said the “steps to be taken in the field” would determine the main agenda for relations between the two sides.
At this point, he said, the “most important step” is the establishment of an “encompassing, embracing and inclusive government” in the war-torn country.
Turkish diplomats remain in Kabul
In the meantime, it has been learned that a core group of Turkish diplomats will continue to work in Kabul. The diplomatic activities were carried out in the protected area of the airport since the Taliban’s takeover of control of Kabul on Aug. 15.
Turkish FM talks Afghanistan with Finnish, British counterparts
Turkey’s foreign minister on Aug. 26 discussed the latest situation in Afghanistan with his Finnish and British counterparts, according to diplomatic sources.
In separate phone calls, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu exchanged views with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on the evolving situation in Afghanistan after the capital Kabul fell to the Taliban.
The Turkish minister also spoke to Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and congratulated him for his appointment to the post.